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What Does the Bible Teach About Abortion?

By John Ankerberg and John Weldon

In the Old Testament, the Bible uses the same Hebrew words to describe the pre-born child, infants, and children.  In the New Testament, the same Greek words also describe the pre-born child, infants and children which indicates a continuity from conception to childhood and on into adulthood.

The Greek word brephos is often used of the newly-born, infants, and older children (Luke 2:12, 16; 18:15; 1 Peter 2:2).  For example, in Acts 7:19 brephos refers to the children killed at Pharaoh’s command. But in Luke 1:41, 44 this same word is used of John the Baptist while he was yet in the womb, a pre-born infant.

In God’s eyes he was indistinguishable from a child.  The biblical writer also informs us that John was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb, indicating personhood (Luke 1:15).  Even three months before birth, John could miraculously recognize Jesus in Mary’s womb (Luke 1:44).  In addition, the Greek huios means “son” but is used in Luke 1:36 of John the Baptist’s existence in the womb before birth (at six months).

The Hebrew word yeled is usually used of children (i.e., a child, boy, etc.).  But in Exodus 21:22 it is used of a child in the womb.  In Genesis 25:22 the word yeladim (children) is used of Rebecca’s children struggling while in her womb.  In Job 3:3, Job uses the word geber to describe his conception:  ‘A man child is conceived.”  But geber is a Hebrew noun that is usually translated as “man,” “male,” or “husband.”  In Job 3:11-16, Job equates the pre-born child with kings, counselors, and princes.

All these Scriptures and many others indicate that God does not make a distinction between potential life and real life, or in delineating stages of personhood—namely, between a pre-born infant in the womb at any stage and a born infant or child.  The Scripture repeatedly assumes the continuity of a person from conception to adulthood.  In fact, no separate word is used exclusively of the pre-born that will permit it to be distinguished from an infant as far as its personhood and value are concerned.

Further, God Himself relates to the unborn as persons.  In Psalm 139:16 the Psalmist says concerning God, “Your eyes saw my unformed body.”  The writer used the word golem, translated as “body” or “substance,” to describe himself while he was in the womb.  He uses this term to refer to God’s personal care for him even during the first part of the embryonic state (from implantation up to the first few weeks), the state before the fetus is physically “formed” into a miniature human being.  We know that the embryo is “unformed” for only four or five weeks.  In other words, even in the “unformed body” stage of gestation (0-4 weeks), God says that He is caring for and molding a child (Psalm 139:13-16).

Other Scriptures also indicate that God relates to the fetus as a person.  Job 31:15 says, “Did not he who made me in the womb make them?  Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?”  In Job 10:8, 12 we read, “Your hands shaped me and made me. [You] clothed me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews.”  Psalm 78:5,6 reveals God’s concern over “the children yet to be born.”   Psalm 139:13-16 states, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . . My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”

These Scriptures reveal that personal pronouns are used to describe the relationship between God and those in the womb.  These verses and others (Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15, 16; Isaiah 49:1, 5) show that God views the pre-born children in the womb as persons.  No other conclusion is possible.  We must agree with theologian John Frame, “There is nothing in Scripture that even remotely suggests that the unborn child is anything less than a human person from the moment of conception.”^[1]^

In light of the above we must concede that those Scriptures which indicate human life belongs to God, not to us, prohibit abortion.  The Bible teaches that people ultimately belong to God because all men are created by Him.

The Scriptures teach that men are “the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29 NASB) and that “in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28 NASB).  Malachi could ask “Have we not all one Father?  Did not one Got create us?” (Malachi 2:10).

The Scriptures teach that God “Himself gives to all life and breath and all things”’ (Acts 17:25 NASB) because He “made the world and all things in it”’ (Acts 17:24 NASB).  Understanding this, Isaiah could say, “O LORD, Thou art our Father, we are the clay, and Thou our potter; and all of us are the work of Thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8).  The psalmist could also say, “The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).  Further, the Scriptures teach, “Your hands made me and formed me” (Psalm 119:73) and “The LORD . . . forms the spirit of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1 NASB).  God Himself makes the statement, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine” (Ezekiel 18:4 NASB).  Since all life was created by God and belongs to Him, no one has the right to kill something God has created (Exodus 20:13).

Scriptures also teach we must defend and protect the weak, the defenseless, the innocent, the needy.  This surely includes unborn children.  Consider the following Scriptures which indicate God’s concern for those who cannot speak on their own behalf.

Proverbs 31:8, 9—Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Psalm 82:2-4—How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?  Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.  Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

The Bible has many Scriptures like this.  There can be no doubt that they also apply to the innocent unborn who are the most defenseless, innocent, and needy.  Indeed, God will hold us accountable for their welfare:

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.  If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?  Does not he who guards your life know it?  Will he not repay each person according to what he has done? (Proverbs 24:11, 12)

In fact, numerous Scriptures condemn the killing of innocent life (Proverbs 6:16-19; 12:6; Deuteronomy 19:10; 27:25).  Many of the following Scriptures apply to those who perform abortions.

Isaiah 1:15—When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are full of blood.

Isaiah 59:2, 3, 4b, 7b—But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.  For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt.  Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. . . . They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. . . . Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways.

Jeremiah 22:17 But your eyes and your heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion.

Hebrews 4:13—Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Can one imagine Jesus accepting the idea of abortion?  Did He not teach: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven. . . . Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (Matthew 18:10,14 NASB).

Another way to decide whether abortion is a justifiable practice is to think through the implications of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  The question is, At what point was the personhood of Jesus present?  In brief, it had to be present at the point of conception.  Both the New Testament and the doctrinal creeds of the church affirm that God became man at the point of conception.  The eternal Son of God became incarnate in Mary’s womb.  Christ’s personal history on earth began not when He was “born of the virgin” but when He was “conceived by the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:31, 35).

It is significant that God chose to begin the process of incarnation at the point of conception rather than at some other point.  But Christ “had to be made like His brethren in all things” (Hebrews 2:17 NASB); His human history, like ours, had to begin at conception.

Lawyers Herbert T. Krimmel and Martin J. Foley argue that because Jesus was fully present at conception so must every other person be as well:

Now, given the facts established by Holy Scripture that (a) Christ was fully God and fully man and (b) Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, our argument can be stated succinctly:

  1.  “Conception” literally means the process which terminates the initial presence in the womb of that which is conceived (i.e., the single cell entity referred to in biological terms as a zygote).  Consequently, when one says that Mary conceived by the activity of the Holy Ghost, one must mean that which the Holy Ghost produced in and through conception was the initial presence of the zygote.
  2.  The zygote the Holy Ghost brought about in Mary’s womb was Jesus Christ, true God and true man, in His human nature like man in all things except for sin.
  3.  If Jesus (true God and true man) was present in His mother’s womb from the first moment of His conception, then it follows that other men must also be alive and existing as human beings from the first moments of their conceptions; for unless they are the same as Jesus in this respect of their human nature, He would not be like them in every essential human respect except for sin.  This is to say, then, that a human being must be fully present as such from the moment of conception.^[2]^

Finally, the Bible teaches that the fetus in the womb at any stage is valued as highly as any adult life.  Where does the Bible teach this?  Exodus 21:22-25 states,

If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Distinguished Jewish exegete Umberto Cassuto interprets and translates Exodus 21:22-25 in his celebrated Commentary on the Book of Exodus:

When men strive together and they hurt unintentionally a woman with child, and her children come forth but no mischief happens—that is, the woman and the children do not die—the one who hurt her shall surely be punished by a fine.  But if any mischief happened, that is, if the woman dies or the children die, then you shall give life for life.^[3]^

Keil and Delitzsch in their Old Testament commentary on the book of Exodus explain that the passage demands exactly the same penalty for injuring the mother as the child.^[4]^  There is absolutely no ground to differentiate between the mother or the child in this con- text if we keep to the rights of language.

Distinguished Hebrew scholar Dr. Gleason Archer has stated about this passage:

There is no ambiguity here whatever.  What is required is that if there should be an injury either to the mother or to her children, the injury shall be avenged by a like injury to the assailant.  If it involves the life, the nephesh, of the premature baby, then the assailant shall pay for it with his life.  There is no second class status attached to the fetus under this rule.  The fetus is just as valuable as the mother.  It is as if he were a normally delivered child or an older person.  The penalty is life for life.^[5]^

The sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (the Hebrew is “murder”) refers to every act of murder: child, wife, husband, stranger, self, etc.  Since it is scientifically established that the fetus is a human being, the commandment applies to abortion as well.  “Thou shalt not kill” is equivalent to “Thou shalt not commit abortion.”

All of the above and a great deal more Scriptures indicate that the Bible is not silent on abortion.  To the contrary, a biblical understanding of God, man, procreation and conception, gestation, and life itself reveals that far from being silent on abortion, the Bible implies that abortion is a crime against both God and man.

**John Ankerberg is Director of the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute and host of the nationally televised “The John Ankerberg Show.”

**John Weldon is a freelance researcher and writer on apologetic, cult, and ethical issues.

This article is an excerpt from their booklet, The Facts on Abortion (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1995), 34-40.  Used by permission.

NOTES

1 John Frame, “Abortion from a Biblical Perspective,” in Thou Shalt Not Kill, ed. Richard L. Ganz (New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1978), 50-51.

2 Herbert T. Krimmel and Martin J. Foley, “Abortion and Human Life: A Christian Perspective,” The Simon Greeleaf Law ReviewThe Simon Greeleaf Law Review 86), 12-13.

3 Umberto Cassuto, Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967), 275.

4 C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, vol. 1 (Exodus) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 134-35.

5 Television program transcript, “Abortion,” Chattanooga, TN, The John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association, 1982, p.3.

[1] John Frame, “Abortion from a Biblical Perspective,” in Thou Shalt Not Kill, ed. Richard L. Ganz (New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1978), 50-51.

[2] Herbert T. Krimmel and Martin J. Foley, “Abortion and Human Life: A Christian Perspective,” The Simon Greeleaf Law Review 5 (1985-86), 12-13.

[3] Umberto Cassuto, Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967), 275.

[4] C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, vol. 1 (Exodus) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 134-35.

[5] Television program transcript, “Abortion,” Chattanooga, TN, The John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association, 1982, p. 3.

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